Wednesday, 14 June 2017


Sad to report, but a most unsatisfactory session with a Cuckoo. Or perhaps I should say with people photographing the Cuckoo.

We had heard reports of a male Cuckoo at Thursley Common that was being fed mealworms and so returned to the same area on a regular basis. I was interested, I had heard a number of Cuckoos during the spring but had not managed to see one, and they would be starting to head back to Africa soon. We just happened to be at Thursley photographing dragonflies, it was a no brainer, we went to have a look.

Initially it looked quite good. Just the two of us there and a good viewing area with some cover available for concealment. We settled down to wait. After about an hour, team one turned up. They were reasonably pleasant but explained that the bird was virtually tame and you could get a lot closer without spooking it. They proceeded to set up perches and sprinkle mealworms around the area.

Redstart on team one perch - he wanted his share of the mealworms

A short time later team two turned up. They walked out into the field of view and proceeded to set up a different perch and liberally laced it with caterpillars. No explanations no apologies.

Perhaps this is the point at which we should have left but we had waited about an hour and a half in the hot sun and we could hear the Cuckoo calling. We stayed, after all it was our year tick!

The Cuckoo flew into an adjacent tree but which perch to choose, mealworm or caterpillars. More caterpillars where thrown out. Half of team one joined team two. No competition, big juicy caterpillars are the obvious choice and it chose perch two.

With the food so easy to find the Cuckoo made a few sorties on to the ground and then flew back to the perch or more often into the tree. It wasn't around for long. Team one were muttering that it had filled up too quickly on the caterpillars and that it would have been on the ground for longer looking for the mealworms. Team two were not bothered. They had lured the Cuckoo to within about twenty feet with more handfuls of caterpillars and a trail of them leading up to their big lenses. The Cuckoo certainly wasn't bothered. Stupid humans providing unlimited food, he had trained them well!

What was I doing apart from looking down my nose at my fellow toggers? There was a Cuckoo on the ground about fifty feet from where I was sitting. I was taking pictures.

It all felt a bit like observing a bird in a zoo but then who am I to criticise. Feeding stations are getting more and more popular - Red Kites, Eagles, etc; The RSPB do it; I am sure the top wildlife photographers all do it; I have one set up in my back garden. But then I would not take a picture of birds on my feeders (unless it was a real rarity). Perhaps it really comes down to the issue of passing off pictures of tame birds as wild birds. It just leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Learn some field craft and go and find some wild birds.

Perhaps this has been a good lesson for me. I always thought that the picture was all that counted. I guess I realise now and have probably always really know that it is the when, where and how that really add the value and create the exceptional shots.


  1. We thought long and hard about going to see the cuckoo, pretty much for the reasons you give. On balance, we decided to go and see for ourselves and were fortunate to go on a day when only one other person was present for the couple of hours that we were there. And yes, it is the "when, where and how that really add the value and create the exceptional shots."

  2. ps.. and we didn't feed the cuckoo at all!